The United States Postal Service (USPS) processed 203 billion pieces of mail in 2008. Much of that mail travels to and from organizations including insurance agencies, healthcare providers, colleges and universities, banks, government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and non-profits. These high volumes of mailpieces require efficient, secure processing and routing.
Non-secure storage, delayed processing, or loss of mail translates to wasted time and resources, discontent customers, and legal woes. Many organizations turn to automated digital mailrooms—whether outsourced or integrated into internal operations—to ensure efficient, productive, and correct processing and accessibility.
“Large enterprises with multiple input centers that process high volumes of business mail are prime targets for a digital mailroom,” says Sue Barnhill, director of portfolio marketing, BancTec.
In terms of cost savings, Mike Doyle, principal, communications and business process outsourcing, Xerox Corporation, offers an example. He’s witnessed customer savings rise as high as 66 percent through their mailroom service. One mailroom operation exceeded five million dollars annually. After revamped processes and implementing Xerox services, the company was down to $1.8 million, says Doyle. “A typical success is about 40 percent savings, which is pretty dramatic.”
Times are Changing
The digital mailroom’s purpose and technology evolved from ten years ago. “The concept of the digital mailroom generates significant buzz in the market, but few offer efficient systems,” says Andrew Pery, CMO, Kofax.
“As technologies become more mature and integrated, emphasis migrates from capturing paper documents in the mailroom for instant and secure digital access to work distribution,” says Laurel Sanders, director of public relations and communications, Optical Image Technology (OIT). “A mailroom solution integrated with business process management and workflow tools capture documents digitally as well as uses pre-established business rules and indexing information to route documents to appropriate work queues or send alerts to appropriate members of staff based on title, role, or department,” she adds.
Sean Baird, senior product marketing manager, EMC Captiva products, notes the introduction of intelligent document recognition technology as one of the most important technological evolutions in this space in the last five years. “This is the technology that we have in our Dispatcher product. It helps automate what is historically a very manual process—the sorting and preparation of documents scanned and placed into an automated process,” he says.
“Capture technology and tools for efficient classification and index data evolved to the degree that more companies are switching from late scanning, referring to after processing and case management, to early scanning,” says Annemarie Pucher, CEO, ISIS Papyrus Software. “Today, it’s possible to automate 60 to 90 percent of inbound mail processing, depending on the complexity and requirements of documents and data, typically allowing a return on investment (ROI) of less than one year.”
Dave Savage, IT director, Optical Record Systems Ltd. (ORS) notes that many software vendors developed products without fully understanding the business needs of customers.
“For us, mail is not just scanned mail,” says Etienne Droulez, COO and founder, The Tech Factory. “One primary feature of our system is standardizing the handling of all mail—whether it be email, faxes, online responses, or postal mail. The idea is to get into the content repository so it is essentially accessible to the whole organization,” he adds.
Business Efficiency and ROI
One important benefit of a digital mailroom is the increase in business efficiency. Telekom Austria, a communications services provider, illustrates the benefits associated with a functional digital mailroom. The company uses its scan center in Vienna, Austria as the centralized distribution point for all incoming mail—up to 10,000 pieces daily. The process requires re-structuring, from the digitalization of incoming customer mail and business documents through long-term archiving of information with on demand data access.
Telekom uses ISIS Papyrus’ solution, based on Papyrus Capture products, to create a transparent portal between the incoming paper documents and the digital information resident within Telekom’s system domain. The implementation of Papyrus Capture also provides the basis for the introduction of further case management workflow. The system expanded from handling 30 forms initially to more than 100 document types, including forms, invoices, and customer letters. Mail is distributed to designated case management personnel throughout Austria within a maximum of four hours after receipt. Telekom boasts automation rates of up to 98 percent, depending on document type.
BancTec describes a growing market for mailroom solutions. “We see a subtle change in business drivers in terms of achievable end user benefits,” notes Barnhill. “The traditional driver of reducing operating costs is still a major area for justifying the business case, but other benefits are higher up the wish list. Corporations place a stronger emphasis on improving service levels to retain existing customers. Mailroom automation helps generate strong efficiency improvements by sending customer information to where it is needed within the organization far quicker than manual processes. Customer transactions, requests, and inquiries are therefore dealt with quickly, allowing organizations to compete on service level as well as cost,” says Barnhill.
Digital mailroom investments have a measurable ROI. “If someone has mail coming in—whether they’re forms or any other kind of documents—we extract the information and report to a database. Some of our clients reduce the manual validation three- or four-fold,” says Chris Koulouris, marketing director, CVISION Technologies, Inc.
Digital mailrooms help organizations save time and money when implemented correctly. Terrence Doeberl, director, business development, Pitney Bowes Management Services (PBMS), says the company offers its Virtual Mail Management solutions and Shared Client Service Center capabilities. “PBMS is able to deliver up to 30 percent in savings for those clients who previously managed their own mail centers or outsourced to others where traditional techniques, technologies, business processes, and policies were used.”
Doeberl adds that its Virtual Mail Management solution, “delivers significant operating cost savings, enables facilities real estate consolidation, supports remote and mobile workforce initiatives, drives productivity, enhances security and business continuity, addresses regulatory demands, and helps attain ‘green’ objectives.”
OIT’s Sanders says that savings from a digital mailroom and the DocFinity solution are variable depending on the volume of mail received, how often the documents are accessed, and whether mail is captured and stored or connected to a digital workflow product. “Many customers report saving tens through hundreds of thousands of dollars and many hours annually by gaining control of and access to information digitally at the point of capture,” comments Sanders. She notes that even more important than the dollar savings, many companies managed to grow significantly—30 to 40 percent annually—without adding staff.
What kind of investment does a company need to convert manual processes to a digital mailroom? “As little as a few hundred dollars a month,” says Lance Reed, GM, The Carrington Company, a Neopost-Hasler dealer serving CT, MA, and NY. With an investment in a digital mailroom organizations achieve time and cost
savings anywhere from five to 40 percent, depending on the problem and solution.
Kofax says their typical digital mailroom clients see ROI in less than 12 months, but they’ve seen cases where it was achieved in as little as three months. “Digital mailrooms allow organizations to realize increased operating efficiencies as well as enable significant improvements to short-term cash forecasting capabilities by capturing all upcoming vendor payment obligations before they are electronically forwarded to the company’s various front-office environments,” states Pery.
“With a digital mailroom and closed loop processing, ORS ensures the days of lost mail and a backlog of manual keying are things of the past. The right data hits the right screen as soon as possible,” explains Savage.
“A digital mailroom has the potential to be successful in all enterprise organizations,” says Mike Maselli, executive director, Software Business Solutions, Bšwe Bell + Howell (BBH). “In reality it only delivers maximum results when a company is able to successfully implement and execute data collection and data analysis for the purpose of using the information for business improvements.”
Projects with a minimal value only achieve half of the goal, for example, “collecting a lot of data, but not translating into meaningful change; or having a great reporting system, but lacking useful data to analyze. It truly is the pairing of full visibility and analysis of relative information collected across a production environment that makes a digital mailroom successful,” says Maselli.
Mail that arrives at an enterprise organization may contain personal checks and money orders, confidential information such as social security numbers, legal documents, contracts, and other valuable private correspondence. The digital mailroom—outsourced or in-house—must offer security features to control what is received, how it is stored, and who can view it.
In a digital mailroom, security features are arranged to allow image access to a user depending upon the data extracted. For example, a person can only see invoices below a specified dollar amount; human resource employees cannot see their own personal files. “By ensuring these business rules are coded into the electronic processing and capture of the mail, we improve the accuracy of data extracted from the item,” says Savage.
“Because document control and security are critical for all document and content management activities, the ISIS Papyrus Document System provides control over how, when, and by whom documents are captured, created, accessed, changed, deleted, and archived,” says Pucher.
She says that organizations using the security features available through Papyrus reduce risk from data loss; increase productivity across all document applications; simplify login procedures; and substantially lower cost for ensuring regulatory compliance.
“Many large banks, financial institutions, and insurance companies use BBH products to ensure the safety and security of their most valuable asset—customer data. These companies are required by law to adhere to the highest standards of security,” states Maselli. “That’s why we design highly secure hardware and software solutions that perform integrated or independent controls for integrity and quality into every solution we create.”
Organizations seek mailroom solutions to conform to legal requirements. “By capturing all documents as soon as they enter the organization and providing secure audit trails for the entire document lifecycle, mailroom automation provides companies with a substantially improved process for retaining, managing, and retrieving documentation,” says Barnhill. BancTec CenterVision provides a standards-based, end-to-end secure solution based on total quality management, supporting compliance to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. A Compliance service in CenterVision maintains an audit trail of all activities that occur as each document is processed through the system.
PBMS’ advanced mail screening solutions include X-ray, physical inspection, and chemical/biological screening. “We also provide dMail Digital Mail Solutions to deliver mail to clients’ employee desktops and eliminate much of the risk associated with physical delivery,” says Doeberl.
Digital Mailroom Success
Select Portfolio Servicing Inc. (SPS) is a mortgage service company with branches in Salt Lake City, UT and Jacksonville, FL. The company employs over 800 to handle customer service and other functions associated with loans after they are funded. SPS receives an average of 50,000 pieces of mail per month, which is routed to 12 departments.
Prior to implementing its digital mailroom, the cost of moving paper between SPS’s two locations was an issue. The company now expedites delivery of images electronically. The mortgage industry is highly regulated by the government, with requirements for tracking and reporting response time and receipt of inbound mail.
SPS uses The Tech Factory’s Accelaflow Digital Mailroom for routing and tracking all inbound correspondence. “Since implementation, we achieved 100 percent compliance,” says Greg Ott, VP of document control/management, SPC. The company’s next goal is to incorporate Accelaflow to manage inter-company correspondence, such as employee payroll changes.
Careful consideration of processes and problems must be made to successfully convert to a digital mailroom. “First, the existing process of classification and distribution must be researched and analyzed to evaluate the system as a whole. Then, a system must be designed to mimic this process in a more efficient way. The idea is to fit the solution to the problem so the whole system does not need to be re-engineered,” says Pery.
“A digital mailroom makes the most sense in instances where there is a high volume of mail that needs to be distributed to multiple locations efficiently and cost-effectively,” explains Sanders. She notes that situations where mail must be distributed to remote locations is especially cost-effective. However, even a small office handling large amounts of volume may consider the benefits of a digital mailroom.
“We’ve found digital mailroom solutions provide the most value to customers when there is some type of a significant volume around transactional types of documents,” echoes Baird.
PBMS’ Doeberl sees time-sensitive and customer-facing business processes, which are affected by regulatory demand, benefit from digital mail centers. “Those organizations with significant numbers of remote or mobile employees will reap definite advantages from a Virtual Mail Management solution,” he adds.
The Digital Mailroom Today
When implemented correctly digital mailrooms boost compliance, reduce costs associated with opening and sorting mail, and negate misplaced mail pieces. Digital capture, indexing, and electronic distribution allow businesses to access the most current information, complete with its digital audit trail.
Before investing in a digital mailroom, consider and understand your organization’s needs. “Digital mailroom solutions are not a one-size-fits-all concept. Every enterprise has its own unique set of drivers and needs. The project team must discover and understand them, and build the project plan accordingly,” warns Sanders.
With a digital mailroom solution, “the cost of the mailroom definitely goes down,” says Droulez. “The more you invest in image recognition and data extraction software the better, but you need to standardize the mail for that.”
The digital mailroom combines equipment, software, and services—sometimes from multiple vendors or off-site locations. For a round-up of vendors in the digital mailroom, visit us online at www.dpsmagazine.com and search keyword "mailroom." We also feature related Web-exclusive articles, Outsourcing the Digital Mailroom and Go Digital.